The first time she visits, they tell her that the restraints are to keep him from harming himself.
It seems impossible to imagine that he could – or would – do so, until they bring her to the door of his cell, a room, barely furnished, which she notices has been skillfully divested of all small parts and sharp edges. Suddenly, she's no longer just eager to see her father again, no matter what; in fact, she feels a little like she wants to throw up.
The man sitting on the bed looks unkempt, hair shaggy and hanging in deeply-shadowed eyes, several days' worth of beard growing in straggly unkempt strands from his chin, which is pressed nearly into his chest. He looks up at the sound of keys in the lock, just for a second, before turning back to glare at the ground, and doesn't acknowledge the doctor when he tries to introduce her.
"Daddy?" she tries, anyway, and he looks up, that shuttered face opening for the space of one brief shining instant, and she sees recognition flicker in the depths of those sunken eyes. For that one, brief second, everything is as it should be.
And then recognition turns to anger, and he recoils violently, as though she'd struck him. She reaches out, barely thinking, and he flinches away from her hand. She freezes, motionless, wondering how it all went so wrong so quickly, as he shouts, "Don't touch me!"
"Daddy, it's me," she says, as calmly and as soothingly as she can, and something that sounds halfway between a laugh and a sob bubbles up out of his throat.
"No. No, you're a trick. An illusion. You must be running out of ideas, if you're falling back on her again!" he shouts, and for a second she sees her father in this stranger's wild eyes, a hint of the steely temper he tried his best to hold in check around her, and she can't help a little sob of her own.
"You won't fool me again," he says, and then he says no more.
As he's leading her out, the doctor tells her that this is the most responsive her father has been in weeks.
The eighth time she visits, they tell her that the restraints are to keep him from harming anyone else.
"We tried the new shock therapy," Dr. Andronicus tells her, as he leads her down the hall. "It – ah – did not have quite the hoped-for effect."
She wants to ask what effect it did have, but they've reached the cell, and she can already see for herself, even before he says a word.
This is not her father. This is not the man who would pick her up and piggyback her around on his shoulders, leading imaginary cavalry charges to rescue kidnapped tsareviches. This is not the man who would attempt to sing her lullabies before bed on those rare nights he was there to tuck her in, steadfastly ignoring her giggles at the unintentional gymnastics his voice would perform. This is not the man who taught her how to swing a sword, how to bake a cake, how not to care for a houseplant. This is not the man who held her so tightly on the night that the news about her mother came that she thought he seemed like a drowning man clinging to a line, not the man who let her hold him even tighter after the funeral while she cried and cried.
The stranger wearing her father's face smiles, and it's the most terrifying thing she's ever seen.
"You've brought me his daughter? Oh, how sweet. Are you going to try to cure me with the power of love, now?"
"Daddy," she tries, anyway, even though saying that word to this creature feels like spitting on a grave.
The smile just grows wider. She takes a step backwards.
"She's smarter than you are," the stranger says to the doctor, who huffs noisily. "She knows when to be afraid."
"And how are you feeling today, General?" Dr. Andronicus retorts, drawing a hiss out of the stranger in her father's skin. She's suddenly very glad he's wrapped in a straightjacket, buckled to the bed.
"Persistent, aren't you?" He turns to look at her, meets her gaze and holds it when he says, "Kozmotis Pitchiner is gone. And he won't be coming back."
She's shaking as they leave, and she isn't sure if it's from rage, or fear, or grief.
The seventeenth time she visits, he isn't restrained.
"We've had marvelous luck with some experimental stardust treatments," Dr. Andronicus tells her, pouring her a cup of tea. "This 'Pitch' character seems to have been almost entirely suppressed, and I don't need to tell you what a relief that is."
She accepts the tea and the comment in silence. They both know that's not the only damage that needs to be undone.
That's when the door opens, and the orderly ushers her father in.
He's dressed, clean-shaven, his hair brushed and tied back at the nape of his neck. His shoulders still slope more than they ever did before, his stiff military posture completely wrecked, but he carries himself with the same pride she remembers. He thanks the orderly when the man leads him to the chair across from her, and thanks Dr. Andronicus when the doctor hands him a cup of tea.
"Daddy?" she whispers, and he looks up, meets her gaze.
His eyes are still shadowed, and will likely always be. But underneath the haunted look, they are the same eyes she remembers, full of nothing but love.
"Seraphina," he breathes, and for the first time, gives her a genuine smile.
She can't help the smile that spreads across her face in response. "I missed you."
"I missed you too," he says. "Did you know that I've gone mad?"
The laughter refuses to be kept down, and she has to set her teacup back in its saucer to keep from spilling any. The doctor shoots her a glare, but her father is laughing too, and that's all that matters, her father is sitting across from her and laughing at nothing as if he'd never been away.
"I might have heard," she says, once the overwhelming urge to laugh passes, dabbing tears from the corners of her eyes.
"How have you been?" her father asks, earnestly. "How's your mother?"
She drops her handkerchief. "Daddy…" She takes a deep breath, steels herself. "She's been dead for ten years."
The look he gives her is puzzled, and she braces herself for what he'll say next. But she still isn't prepared. "I know. That's why I asked you."
The only sound in the study is the quiet china click of Dr. Andronicus setting his cup back in its saucer.
"Daddy," she says, and she leans over and takes his hand in her own. He starts, pulls back, before reaching out and grasping both her hands in his. She looks directly into his eyes, willing him to understand, to believe, but after just the barest sliver of time he shakes his head as if he can't quite believe the evidence of his senses.
"I heard them. What they did to you -" His grip on her hands is suddenly unbearably tight, and she struggles to breathe evenly, shaking her head at the orderly who steps forward to intercede. "I heard you screaming."
"That wasn't me. Daddy, I'm here," she begs, wishing he'd look at her again. He's staring resolutely at his teacup, but he hasn't let go yet. She has to hope that that's a good sign. "I'm not dead. I'm here, and I'm real."
And then he does look at her, and she almost wishes he hadn't. She'd never wanted to see her father cry again, and the way he smiles at her through the tears does nothing to make her feel any better.
"I know," he sighs. "That's what you always say."